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The Third Sunday of Lent

Picture showing reflection in puddle in textured stone sculpture
Posted By : Sarah Mullally Sunday 23rd March 2014

“I give him, will become in him, a spring of water welling up to eternal life

 Sermon by Canon Treasurer Sarah Mullally DBE

23 March 2014

John 4:5-42 and Exodus 17:1-7

 

It has been wonderful to watch people engage with the Sculptures which arrived in the Close just over two weeks ago.  Sanctuary is an exhibition by John Maine which uses the form of natural stone to encourage us to engage with the many meanings and implications of a sanctuary, not least as a place of safety and refuge.

Now my misconception about this exhibition was that people would engage with them in the way I would understand sanctuary – reflectively and with a stillness.  But if you have watched, you will see people sitting with friends and strangers, running and jumping on and around them, even embracing, and they are certainly not still or quiet.  The pieces of sculpture have spoken to them, not on our territory of the religious world but on theirs, and what is clear is that they have found a place of safety and encounter – that is sanctuary.

 So in our passage this morning we have Jesus who sits on another type of stone structure, Jacobs well and encounters a women on her territory, and in doing so enables her to find a place of safety and transformation – sanctuary.

For me the story of the Samaritan woman is one of the most wonderful encounters in the bible. Just as the stones in the Close have encouraged people to sit and encounter strangers this wonderful story is of the encounter at a well between two strangers, a physically thirsty Christ with the spiritually thirsty Samaritan woman.

As Jesus had travelled from Judea to Galilee he stopped in the town of Sychar around noon time, tired and thirsty from the journey. There he sat down by a well and asked a Samaritan woman for a drink of water. That Jesus, a Jew, would talk to a Samaritan shocked the woman (4:9). That he would talk to a woman surprised His own disciples (4:27). That he would sit and talk to a women who had, through death or divorce, had five marriages and was then living with a boyfriend not her husband (4:18) would have shocked them all.  This was a women who was an outcast amongst her peers, and by Jesus sitting with her he risked attracting the same social stigma.

The encounter reminds us that the kingdom of God is a realm of inclusion not exclusion, dignity not denigration, empowerment rather than exploitation, and affirmation rather than marginalization. The woman epitomized the many ways that society marginalizes people and Jesus shatters all the taboos that held sway then (and now) — gender discrimination, ritual purity (sharing a drinking cup with a Samaritan), socio-economic poverty (any woman married five times was likely poor), religious hostility, and the moral stigma.

Jesus, in meeting with the women didn't come judging, he accepted her just as he accepts us just where we are.  Jesus demonstrates God’s deep deep love through which we are transformed, however we believe the world values us or rates us. 

And so in our account this morning, a simple request for water starts one of the longest conversations in the gospels. Jesus offers the women Living water and just as last week with Nicodemus, she took Jesus words literally.

The symbolism of living water which is used throughout scripture is that it is of God, divine help through his spirit which offers us fullness of Life.  God longs to quench the deepest needs and desires of each one of us with the "living water" of his Spirit.

This week saw the publication of a survey by the Office of National Statistics which showed that the number of people in the UK who would express satisfaction with life has dropped between 2011 and 2013. 

How often do we, when we have a deep longing, look to the things of the world - relationships, family, it may even be food or drink to satisfy it.  Now none of these things are wrong but they risk letting us down.

Jesus offers to each one of us the "living water" that is the life-giving action of His Spirit in the deepest recesses of our being. God welcomes every person, rich or poor, to drink deeply of what He alone can give us. It is a gift which echoes the prophet Isaiah 55 :1-3

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    listen, so that you may live.

 

This woman’s response was to run to the city and tell of a man who, knowing her history, did not what to use her for his purposes but rather offered her new life.  The woman went without being sure that Jesus was the Messiah, but what motivated her was his acceptance of her. And as in so many Gospel stories the ostracised, foreign woman becomes the hero of the story, a symbol of life in His kingdom.

This should warn us of the religiosity that turns a deaf ear to the disenfranchised, and which masks an otherwise smug, exclusionary and self-serving faith.  The kingdom that Jesus announced is not one of a privatised faith whose purpose is to guarantee personal peace and affluence.

 Rather, Jesus proclaimed that God longs to assuage the deepest needs of the morally, spiritually, religiously, and economically least and lost. He invites us to join Him in that service.

The water that Jesus offered does just satisfy us but should over flow into the lives of others – the vulnerable, the marginalised. It is invitational not judgmental; it is honest.  It calls for a church focused on the needs of others rather than seeking to internally quarrel.

So to welcome all inclusively is not just to wait for them to come to us, but it requires us to go to others on their territory and ground and risk being counted with them, and requires us to be noisy and active when we would prefer to be still and silent.

Lent is a good time to reflect on whether we have drunk of the waters of life and whether they overflow to others both as individuals and as a church. Within the Cathedral we are asking ourselves are we doing enough to meet those in need on their territory and to bring Gods inclusive and deep love to them and if you have a view you can fill one of our Social responsibility questionnaire on the community forum table and to which there will be an internet link in next week’s Sunday Notices (http://tinyurl.com/socialjust).

At the heart of this gospel story is the deep inclusive love of God which can transform and offer new life not just to others.  The question that remains is whether we are willing to stop and say "Lord, give me this water that I may never thirst again!"